Saturday, February 2, 2008


Bouncer (doorman)

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A bouncer at the door of a strip club in San Francisco, USA.
A bouncer at the door of a strip club in San Francisco, USA.

A bouncer or doorman is an informal term for security guards employed at venues such as bars, nightclubs or concerts to provide security, check legal age, and refuse entry to a venue based on criteria such as intoxication, aggressive behaviour, or other standards. Bouncers are often required where crowd size, clientèle or alcohol consumption may make arguments or fights commonplace.[1]

Other terms used may be 'door staff', 'floor staff', and 'door supervisor' (in the UK).[2] Such terms are more precise than generic terms like 'security guard' or 'security officer' insofar as they describe the main location of duty. In the Australian security industry, the official term for such an individual is 'crowd controller'.





A bouncer's primary task is to keep underage, intoxicated, aggressive, and otherwise disqualified individuals from entering an establishment. In clubs in some major cities, bouncers use metal detectors and body searches to prevent patrons from bringing potentially dangerous and illegal items, such as drugs and weapons, into the club. A secondary role often includes the monitoring of behaviour of patrons to ensure that club rules and alcohol regulations are adhered to.[1] Bouncers also ensure that patrons do not damage the bar or venue's property and furnishings.[3] Also, bouncers must generally resolve conflict within the establishment, which may involve verbal warnings to rule-breakers, separating individuals and groups, or ensuring that troublemakers (i.e. those who become too disorderly, intoxicated, or argumentative) leave the venue.[4]

Bouncers can also be responsible for collecting an entry fee, or "cover" and checking for identification (especially in regard to the legal age of customers for entry and alcohol consumption). In some venues, bouncers may have the subjective task of "separating the 'in-crowd' from the 'out-crowd'"[5] based on the patrons' style of dress and grooming, a practice popularized by Studio 54, a 1970s discotheque. Bouncers may also escort employees (particularly female staff) to and from the venue, and in rare cases, may act as bodyguards for VIPs, celebrities, or management within the venue.

The increasing availability of affordable and reliable security and safety devices has engendered some changes in the profession over the decades. Bouncers have made increasing use of " such as walkie-talkies and security cameras".[6] Some venues equip their staff with in-ear walkie-talkies to stay in contact. A small number of bars also use digital cameras connected to biometric devices such as facial recognition software to alert staff to the presence of known troublemakers and individuals that have been barred from the venue, or possibly even from other venues.[7]


A security supervisor (also called a "head bouncer" or "cooler")[6] is an employee who oversees the security for a venue and supervises bouncers and other security staff. Security supervisors are usually security staff members with many years of experience and good conflict resolution skills. A security supervisor's primary function is to organise and support security personnel and ensure the maximum level of safety for his/her staff and customers.[8]

Security supervisors will often patrol all sections of a venue, resolving potential problems and closely monitoring customer behaviour such as speech, level of alcohol consumption and body language in an attempt to pinpoint potentially dangerous individuals or groups. He/she may also handle customer complaints, improper conduct of staff (especially those in security, but potentially also those with access to money) as well as supervise training of new bouncers and security staff.

Both bouncers and supervisors will often act as intermediaries between venue management and law-enforcement or emergency services personnel.

Skills and training

Personality and skills

Although movies such as Roadhouse have created a stereotype of thuggish brutes, a good bouncer requires more than just physical qualities such as strength and size:

"The best bouncers don’t "bounce" anyone... they talk to people" (and remind them of the venue rules).[1]

An ability to judge and communicate well with people will reduce the need for physical intervention, while a steady personality will prevent the bouncer from being easily provoked by customers. Bouncers also profit from good written communication skills, because they are often required to document assaults in an incident log or using an incident form. Well-kept incident logs can "cover the employee's back" if criminal charges or a lawsuit later arise from an incident.[9]

Use of force

Movies often depict bouncers physically throwing patrons out of clubs and restraining drunk customers with headlocks, which has led to a popular misconception that bouncers have (or reserve) the right to use physical force freely. However, in many countries bouncers have no legal authority to use physical force, apart from the use of reasonable physical force used in self defense, to eject drunk or aggressive patrons refusing to leave a venue, or when restraining a patron who has committed an offense until police arrive. Lawsuits are possible if injuries occur, even if the patron was drunk or using aggressive language.

With civil liability and court costs related to the use of force as "the highest preventable loss found within the industry..." (US)[9] and bars being "sued more often for using unnecessary or excessive force than for any other reason" (Canada),[10] substantial costs may be incurred by indiscriminate violence against patrons - though this depends heavily on the laws and customs of the country. Use of force training programs teach bouncers ways to avoid using force and explain what types of force are considered allowable by the courts.[9] Some bars have gone so far as to institute barring physical contact, where bouncers are instructed to ask a drunk or disorderly patron to leave - if the patron refuses, the bouncers call police.[citation needed]

Another strategy used in some bars is to hire smaller or women bouncers, because they may be better able to defuse conflicts than large, intimidating bouncers. In Australia, for example, women comprise almost 20% of the security industry and increasingly work the door as well, using "a smile, chat and a friendly but firm demeanor" to resolve tense situations.[11] Nearly one in nine of Britain's nightclub bouncers are also women, with the UK's 2003 Licensing Act giving the authorities "discretionary power to withhold a venue's licence if it does not employ female door staff." This is credited with having "opened the door for women to enter the profession." Female security staff, apart from having fewer problems searching female patrons for drugs or weapons, and being able to enter washrooms to check for illegal activities, are also considered to be able to deal better deal with drunk or aggressive women.[12]

Large and intimidating bouncers, whilst providing the appearance of strong security and a safe environment, may very well drive customers away in cases where a family-friendly environment or less obvious security staff are desired.

Despite popular misconceptions, bouncers in Western countries are normally unarmed.[13][14] Some bouncers may carry weapons such as expandable batons for personal protection,[15] but they may not have a legal right to carry a gun or other weapon even if they would prefer to do so.


In many countries, a bouncer must be licenced and lacking a criminal record to gain employment within the security/crowd control sector. In some countries or regions, bouncers may be required to have extra skills or special licenses and certification for first aid, alcohol distribution, crowd control, or fire safety.


In Canada, bouncers have the right to use reasonable force to expel intoxicated or aggressive patrons. First, the patron must be asked to leave the premises. If the patron refuses to leave, the bouncer can use reasonable force to expel the patron. This has been upheld in a number of court cases.[16] Under the definition of 'reasonable force', "it is perfectly acceptable [for the bouncer] to grab a patron’s arm to remove the patron from the premises." However, "Only in situations where employees reasonably believe that the conduct of the patron puts them in danger can they inflict harm on a patron and then only to the extent that such force is necessary for self defence."[16]

In Ontario, courts have ruled that "a tavern owes a twofold duty of care to its patrons. It must ensure that it does not serve alcohol which would apparently intoxicate or increase the patron's intoxication. As well, it must take positive steps to protect patrons and others from the dangers of intoxication." Regarding the second requirement of protecting patrons, the law holds that "customers cannot be ejected from your premises if doing so would put them in danger [e.g., due to the patron's intoxication]. Bars can be held liable for ejecting a customer who they know, or should know, is at risk of injury by being ejected."[10]

In Ontario, bartenders and servers have to have completed the Smart Serve Training Program, which teaches them to recognize the signs of intoxication. The Smart Serve program is also recommended for other staff in bars who have contact with potentially intoxicated patrons, such as bouncers, coat check staff, and valets. The Smart Serve certification program encourages bars to keep Incident Reporting Logs, to use as evidence if an incident gets to court.[10]

In August 2007, the Private Security and Investigative Services Act came into effect in Ontario. The new law requires security industry workers to be licensed (by November 2008), including some that were not licensed previously. All bouncers, security guards, private investigators, bodyguards, and loss prevention personnel must apply for a licence from the Ontario government. The government introduced the new law because the private security industry has grown substantially in Ontario in the last 40 years, from 4,000 licensed private investigators and security guards in 1966, to over 32,000 today.[17]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, there is no national-level regulation of bar bouncers. The New Zealand Security Association supports the Hospitality Association of New Zealand's efforts to introduce certification for bouncers, doormen and other people responsible for security at bars and sporting events. The association argues that security officers should be "...properly trained professionals, not just a 'big thug' to stand at the door.", decrying the practice of using "unlicensed, untrained security staff". The organization has been lobbying the New Zealand government to introduce legislation on training requirements for bar security staff.[18]

United Kingdom

In the UK, bouncers (called 'door supervisors') must hold a license from the Security Industry Authority. The training for a door supervisor licence takes 30 hours, and includes issues such as behaviour, conflict management, civil and criminal law, searching and arrest procedures, drug awareness, recording of incidents and crime scene preservation, licensing law, equal opportunities and discrimination, health and safety at work, and emergency procedures.[2] One current provider of training is the British Institute of Innkeeping Awarding Body.

United States

Requirements for bouncers vary from state to state:

In California, Senate Bill 194 requires any bouncer or bar security guard to be registered with the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. These guards must also complete a criminal background check, including submitting their fingerprints to the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although the California law does not require bouncers to have training, it recommended that bouncers or bar security workers get job specific training.[citation needed]

In New York State, it is illegal for a bar owner to knowingly hire a felon for a bouncer position; however, the law has a limited value, because bar owners are not required to do background checks on their bouncers.[19]


In the early 1990s, an Australian government study on violence stated that violent incidents in public drinking locations are caused by the interaction of five factors: aggressive and unreasonable bouncers, groups of male strangers, low comfort (e.g., unventilated, hot clubs), high boredom, and high drunkenness. The research indicated that bouncers did not play as large a role "... as expected in the creation of an aggressive or violence prone atmosphere [in bars]." However, the study did show that "...edgy and aggressive bouncers, especially when they are arbitrary or petty in their manner, do have an adverse effect. The study stated that bouncers:

"...have been observed to initiate fights or further encourage them on several occasions. Many seem poorly trained, obsessed with their own machismo, and relate badly to groups of male strangers. Some of them appear to regard their employment as giving them a licence to assault people. This may be encouraged by management adherence to a repressive model of supervision of patrons ("if they play up, thump 'em"), which in fact does not reduce trouble, and exacerbates an already hostile and aggressive situation. In practice many bouncers are not well managed in their work, and appear to be given a job autonomy and discretion that they cannot handle well."[20]

A 1998 article "Responses by Security Staff to Aggressive Incidents in Public Settings" in the Journal of Drug Issues examined 182 violent incidents involving crowd controllers (bouncers) that occurred in bars in Toronto, Canada. The study indicated that in 12% of the incidents the bouncers had good responses, in 20% of the incidents, the bouncers had a neutral response; and in 36% of the incidents, the bouncers "... responses were rated as bad—that is, the crowd controllers enhanced the likelihood of violence but were themselves not violent." Finally, "... in almost one-third of incidents, 31 per cent, the crowd controllers' responses were rated as ugly. The controllers' actions involved gratuitous aggression, harassment of patrons and provocative behaviour."[21]


In the 1990s and 2000s, increased awareness of the risks of lawsuits and criminal charges (especially in the United States) have led many bars and venues to train their bouncers to use communications skills rather than brute force against troublemakers. However, the history of the profession shows that the stereotype of bouncers as rough, tough, physical enforcers was a reality in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this period US saloon-keepers and brothel madams hired bouncers to remove troublesome, violent, or dead-drunk patrons, and protect the saloon girls and prostitutes.

The word "bouncer" was first used in the saloon sense in an 1883 newspaper article:

"'The Bouncer' is merely the English 'chucker out'. When liberty verges on license and gaiety on wanton delirium, the Bouncer selects the gayest of the gay, and - bounces him!"[22] (note that 'gay' is used in the older sense of 'happy', or in this case, 'too rowdy')


In US Western towns in the 1870s, high-class brothels known as "good houses" or “parlour houses” hired bouncers for security and to prevent patrons from evading payment. “Good house”-style brothels “...considered themselves the cream of the crop, and [the prostitutes working there] scorned those who worked in (or out of) saloons, dance halls, and theaters.” The best bordellos looked like respectable mansions, with attractively-decorated parlors, a game room and a dance hall. For security, “somewhere in every parlor house there was always a bouncer, a giant of a man who stayed sober to handle any customer who got too rough with one of the girls or didn't want to pay his bill.” The “ protective presence” of bouncers in high-class brothels was “ of the reasons the girls considered themselves superior to [lower-class] free-lancers, who lacked any such shepherds.”[23]

In Wisconsin's lumberjack days, bouncers would physically remove drinkers who were too drunk to keep buying drinks, and thus free up space in the bar for new patrons. The slang term 'snake-room' was used to describe a " off a saloon, usually two or three steps down, into which a bar-keeper or the bouncer could slide drunk lumber-jacks head first through swinging doors from the bar-room."[24]

In the late 1800s, until Prohibition, bouncers also had the unusual role of protecting the saloon's buffet. To attract business, "...many saloons lured customers with offers of a "free lunch"—usually well salted to inspire drinking, and the saloon "bouncer" was generally on hand to discourage [those with too] hearty appetites".[25]

In the late 1800s, bouncers at small town dances and bars physically resolved disputes and removed troublemakers, without worrying about lawsuits. In the main bar in one Iowa town, "...there were many quarrels, many fights, but all were settled on the spot. There were no court costs [for the bouncers or the bar]; only some aches and pains [for the troublemakers]."[26]

In the 1880s and 1890s, bouncers were used to maintain order in the "The Gut", the roughest part of New York's Coney Island, which was filled with "ramshackle groups of wooden shanties", bars, cabarets, fleabag hotels and brothels. Huge bouncers patrolled these venues of vice and "roughly ejected anyone who violated the loose rules of decorum" by engaging in pickpocketing, jewelry thieving, or bloody fights.[27]

During the 1890s, San Diego had a similarly rough waterfront area and redlight district called the 'Stingaree', where bouncers worked the door at brothels. Until the city pushed them out of the area in the 1910s, the Stingaree was filled with saloons, brothels, and gambling halls, and gamblers, prostitutes, dope peddlers, and sailors wandering the streets. Prostitutes worked at the area's 120 bawdy houses in small rooms, paying a fee to the procurer who usually was the bouncer or 'protector' of the brothel. The more expensive, higher-class brothels were called 'parlor houses', and they were "run most decorously", and the "best of food and drink was served." To maintain the high-class atmosphere at these establishments, male patrons were expected to act like gentlemen; "...if any customer did or said anything out of line, he was asked to leave. A bouncer made sure he did".[28]


In the 1930s, the bawdiest parts of Baltimore, Maryland, near the docks were filled with "burlesque shows, penny arcades, tattoo parlors, saloons, cheap hotels fifth-rate movies, night clubs and shooting galleries." Bars in this rough neighborhood filled with sailors and dockworkers hired bouncers as physical enforcers, to maintain order and eject aggressive patrons. The Oasis club, operated by Max Cohen, hired "...a lady bouncer by the name of Mickey Steele, a six-foot acrobat from the Pennsylvania coal fields. Mickey was always considerate of the people she bounced; first asking them where they lived and then throwing them in that general direction. She was succeeded by a character known as 'Machine-Gun Butch'" who was a long-time bouncer at the club".[29]

Notable names

See also

In general:

In popular culture:


  1. ^ a b c Bouncers & Doormen (from the website)
  2. ^ a b Get Licensed - SIA licensing criteria (PDF) (from the Security Industry Authority, Great Britain)
  3. ^ Bouncer (from the Websters Online Dictionary)
  4. ^ Bouncer (from Wordnet, Princeton University)
  5. ^ Bounce: behind the velvet rope (IMDB entry) - Video, Stick Figure Production, 2001
  6. ^ a b Checking trouble at the door - Daily Northwestern, Thursday 24 January 2002
  7. ^ BioBouncer Might Make Bars Safer - Wired Magazine, Tuesday 28 February 2006
  8. ^ Bisons in bar brawl? - Sun Media via Slam! Sports, Friday 11 May 2007
  9. ^ a b c Safety and Security for Liquor Licensees (from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association's website. Accessed 2008-02-01.)
  10. ^ a b c Did you know? (from the October 2005 newsletter of 'Smart Serve Ontario', Ontario, Canada)
  11. ^ Mate, Don't Call These Bouncers Babe (Abstract) - New York Times, Wednesday, 18 April 2001
  12. ^ Why women want to join the club - The Independent, Tuesday 3 October 2006, via
  13. ^ a b Betty chats with the new hunk on the block, Vin Diesel - Vin Diesel interview via ''. Accessed 2008-02-02.
  14. ^ Gunfight at bar leaves one wounded, another in custody - New Hampshire Union Leader Sunday 15 April 2007
  15. ^ Baton and Handcuff course (from the '' company website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  16. ^ a b Civil liability of commercial providers of alcohol (PDF) - Folick, Lorne P.S.; Dolden Wallace Folick, Vancouver, April 2005
  17. ^ Private Investigators and Security Guards - Licensing (from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections website)
  18. ^ Security Industry Backs Calls for Trained Bouncers (press release, New Zealand Security Association, Friday 12 May 2006)
  19. ^ Last Call for the Falls? (blog entry on Village Voice, with further references)
  20. ^ Australian Violence: Contemporary Perspectives (PDF) - Chappell, Duncan; Grabosky, Peter & Strang, Heather; Australian Institute of Criminology, 1991
  21. ^ Security Industry Amendment (Patron Protection) Bill (website of the Parliament of New South Wales, Hansard & Papers, Legislative Council, Thursday 11 May 2006)
  22. ^ Unknown article name - London Daily News, Thursday 26 July 1883, via the Online Etymological Dictionary
  23. ^ The Ladies; God Bless 'Em! - Shady Ladies of the Old West - Jeffords, Christine; private homepage at
  24. ^ Snake-room (logging) (from Logger's Words of Yesteryears - Sorden, L.G.; Isabel J. Ebert; Madison, 1956, via
  25. ^ Drinking in America: A History - Search for Consensus: Drinking and the War Against Pluralism, 1860-1920 - Lender, Mark Edward & Martin, James Kirby, The Free Press, New York, 1982
  26. ^ Schleswig, Iowa: The First 75 Years: Hohenzollern, Morgan Township: 1883-1899 - compiled by Lillian M. (Kuehl) Jackso and Emma L. (Brasse) Struck, private homepage at
  27. ^ Coney Island - Early History (1881 - 1903) (from private website
  28. ^ When The Red Lights Went Out In San Diego - Macphail, Elizabeth, The Journal of San Diego History, Spring 1974, Volume 20, Number 2
  29. ^ Baltimore's Bawdy "Block" - Hull, Stephen; Stag, 1952 (at the moment only via Google cache)
  30. ^ History Files - Al Capone (from the Chicago History Museum]] website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  31. ^ Christopher Langan (from the ISCID website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  32. ^ Geoff Thompson (from the rdf management company website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  33. ^ About (from the Official Lenny McLean website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  34. ^ From Bouncer to Oscar - interview with Michael Clarke Duncan. Accessed 2008-02-02.
  35. ^ Mr T - Biography (from the '' website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  36. ^ Testimony (from the '' website. Accessed 2008-02-02.)
  37. ^ Cop doesn't know how to stop - New York Times, via '' website. Accessed 2008-02-02.

Further reading

  • Jamie O'Keefe - Old School-New School: Guide to Bouncers, Security and Registered Door Supervisors, New Breed Publishing, August 1997. ISBN 0951756761
  • Lee Morrison - Safe on the Door: The Complete Guide for Door Supervisors, Hodder Arnold, February 2006. ISBN 0340905751
  • Lee Morrison - Up Close, Nothing Personal: Practical Self-Protection for Door Security Staff, Apex Publishing, December 2003. ISBN 1904432255
  • Robin Barratt - Doing the doors: A Life on the Door, Milo Books, 1 February 2004, ISBN 1903854199
  • Robin Barratt - Confessions of a Doorman, Diverse Publications Ltd, 22 June 2006, ISBN 0954814320
  • Ivan Holiday Arsenault - The Bouncer's Bible, Turner Paige Publishing, 15 January 1999, ISBN 1929036000

External links


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